Archives for the month of: December, 2012

In part one of this post, I imparted all of my wisdom on close-up portrait photography.  Hopefully the fact that all of my wisdom can be distilled down to two simple tips doesn’t reflect poorly on the quality of that wisdom.  Regardless,  to add to my grass-roots tips in part one, here I will pile on even more grass-roots photography tips in part two!

Part two is all about whole-body portraits.  In real photography there are all kinds of portraits.  Some include only the face, some the head and shoulders, some the upper body, and some the whole person.  I like to jump right from the face close-up to the whole body portrait because I am either interested in capturing the uniqueness of a person’s expression or a person in their environment.  If you’re attempting the latter, here’s how it’s done.

Frame the whole person head to toe.  Cutting off a person’s feet can make it look like they’re pasted into the photo, and with all those Photoshop wizards out there it’s important for your pictures to look real.  And leave a little room at the top and bottom.

IMG_7888Here is what I mean.  Beautiful subject, beautiful background, nice perspective and composition, and yet it looks like an amateur vacation photo.  You might say “Ian, that is an amateur vacation photo!” to which I might reply “Yes but you only know that because I got lazy with my composition.”  If you include your subject head-to toe they seem like a person in a setting rather than a person standing in front of a setting.  It allows your pictures to tell the story of your adventures rather than serve as proof of the sights you’ve seen.

551942_10150960690736157_1856851421_nLaura Climbing Aneto, Maladeta massif, Pyrenees, Spain35611_470258671156_111521_nThose are three of my favourite examples from my own picture file of portraits capturing people interacting with their environment.  I only have one other suggestion for whole-body portraits and that is to remember the rule of thirds.  Divide your frame into nine quadrants with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines.  Put the horizon on one of the horizontal lines and your subject on one of the vertical lines.  It’s the oldes trick in the book and it’s not always the best way to capture a subject but if you follow this simple rule, your pictures of people will constantly look more composed.

And just like with close-up portraits, make sure what you’re shooting is an environment or an activity worth taking a picture of.  And make it something real and honest.  People know when you’re being fake.  They may not respond negatively to your cheesy pose, the media is full of artificial beauty, sets, hair-and-makeup, etc., but they certainly will respond positively to a picture capturing an inspirational, heartfelt, or intense moment in a balanced composition.

That’s my two amateur cents.  Follow these three rules and your whole-body portraits will turn out great.  And, perhaps most importantly, take lots and lots and lots of pictures.  At least one is bound look okay.

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I enjoy taking pictures.  I enjoy it so much that I have surrounded myself with a heaping pile of obsolete cameras and camera equipment.  I would never be so naive as to call myself a photographer, that’s for people who are trained and are good at making pretty pictures that people want to look at.  That’s not really my thing.  Now I will explain to you the first part of my method and philosophy for taking pictures of people, or as real photographers call it, portrait photography.

This first part is all about pictures of people’s faces.  When I look at pictures of faces I want to see their face in all the gruesome detail.  In real life you can’t really see someone well until you see them up close.  Why then would you use a telephoto lens to shoot a portrait?

Now for the technical jargon.  A telephoto lens tends to flatten the features of a face because the distance from the ears to the eyes to the nose is smaller relative to the distance between the objective lens and the subject.  This is desirable in portraiture because people usually think they look best from a distance.  All people also tend to think they have a big nose.

I prefer photos that make you feel like you’re right up in your subject’s grill; therefore, rule number one for portrait photography is get yourself a short, fast lens and get in your subject’s face.

Portrait - Ken25439_346856996156_8200893_n02090018Something magical happens when you begin to interact with your subjects up close: you start to see the small mannerisms and uniqueness in their expressions and movements.  Only by getting right up close have I been able to satisfactorily capture the expressions that make every face unique.  There is another benefit to shooting up close: short and fast lenses, the kind that give you very shallow depth of field, are way cheaper than long and fast lenses and nothing draws your attention to a beautiful eyelash or a sparkling iris like a blurred-out background.

My second tip is get our and do something with your subject! Forget your studio.  Sure you can pose people and get the perfect shot but nothing is quite as honest or as beautiful as a photo of a real moment between real people with real memories and stories to go along with it.  Take a picture with a soundtrack!

25439_346856971156_4982597_n25439_346856961156_3866837_nThese are two of my all time favourites because they commemorate a night of utter insanity.  Without getting right in his face it would have been impossible to steal some of the madness of that night for my roll of film.  The result is sparkling character and insanity rendered in two dimensions.

That’s all there is to it.  Get a short fast lens, like a 50mm f1.8 or a 28mm f2.8 and stick it right in someone’s face.  And make sure when you choose to get in their face you’re partaking in some sort of shenanigans or a heartfelt conversation.  You may not find these tips in a photography book but I guarantee what you come out with will be visceral, honest renditions of a person with whom you share something real, and most importantly, your pictures will capture all that can be captured of a person’s spirit.  That is the point of portraiture after all isn’t it?

Click here for part two where I will share my tips for whole body portraits, or capturing people in their environments.

My question to you: what’s your favourite way to capture what’s unique about a person on film?  What makes a portrait special for you?

I don’t often get home to London, Ontario from Toronto.  Even less often do I get home home to St. Thomas, Ontario, though that’ll be the subject of a later, more scathing rant.  However, I did make the trip back to Londonia for a couple of days just last week and I noted a few distinguishing features between it and my new stomping grounds.  Here’s what I miss and what I will never miss about London.

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THE GOOD

Trees.  Trees are nice.  I’m convinced, in a totally unsubstantiated sort of way, that we are conditioned by our primate past to love trees.  Toronto has trees but they’re not the same.  In toronto, trees come in planters or holes in the sidewalk.  Sometimes there’s a tree in a park but even then it’s surrounded by grass and I know that whole arrangement is a charade for my benefit.  London always provided me with ample opportunity to commune with nature by visiting the woods, to smell the smells of the forest, to see the trees chirp and the birds sway.  I miss that.

Smiles.  In London, people smile at you when you walk by . . . sometimes.  In the small town where I grew up, it was common to start conversations with total strangers, to not might even be thought rude.  Unfortunately no one had anything important or interesting to say so the weather was discussed at length.  None-the-less it is rather nice to feel that fellow pedestrians aren’t loathing you preemptively in anticipation of your unimportance in the grand scheme of their busy urban lives.  This is the sad state of affairs in Toronto’s public spaces.

Breakfast.  Admittedly, this time around I didn’t indulge in cheap diner breakfast, but it is an urban injustice that I marked a long time ago.  In London you can get a grand-slam breakfast for $3.95 if you know where to go.  The King St. Diner, The Wort, Prince Albert’s, all fine choices for sophonsifying one’s self pre-noon.  In Toronto, breakfast will cost you at least ten buckeroos.  Since the food is no better and the immigrants who cook it are no better-off, I assume the remainder is paying the lease on Toronto’s downtown diners.

THE BAD

Traffic.  There isn’t any.  Why is this a bad thing you may ask?  Well I am of the opinion that cars and roads should be used as little as possible.  Toronto has great transit, everyone uses it, and the roads are still crammed full of cars all day and all night.  This is how it should be: the road system dictating the practicality of car ownership, not the road system being adjusted to accommodate foolish auto-consumers.  In London, most of the roads are empty most of the time.  To me, this suggests that most of the roads are redundant and should be reclaimed as bike paths, vegetable gardens, parks, or free vagabond camping.

Nothing Happens.  As a produce of Toronto’s sheer size, there is always something exciting happening, whether it be a concert, a protest, or a monkey in a sheepskin coat.  When your lines of communication are cut and you fall into the suburban rhythms, whole days can go by without anything happening.  London’s media also seems intent on reporting things that don’t matter at all, even to Londoners.  Fine, the Mayor is going to court.  That, I agree, is news worthy.  Just remember that calling a news piece “public interest” is the definition of double-speak.

Transit. To get from Byron, where my parents live, to downtown, where everything is, I have to take a bus that comes once every hour until the early evening and only monday through saturday.  It’s very difficult to get around in London without a car and, as you may have gleaned from my words above, I am without a car.  It means you have to bum rides to get around and that stinks.

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Well I’m back in the big smoke now.  I have wanted to move to Toronto for a very long time and, although I’m snug as a bug in a rug in this big ol’ city, I hope I never get used to ten dollar eggs in the concrete jungle.  I will always feel the pull of small town Ontario where people are kind, the air is fresh and clean, and they haven’t managed to pave over everything . . .yet.

 

In the popular youtube series Epic Meal Time there is a character named Muscles Glasses because he has muscles and wears glasses.  I haven’t any muscles so I am simply glasses.

I wasn’t always glasses though.  I only began to wear glasses around the age of 15, about 7 and a half years ago if memory serves.  I was having trouble reading the sheet music for my upcoming RCM examinations and decided to get my eyes checked.  Turns out my eyes needed correction so I got myself a pair of understated glasses to wear while reading music and anything else that seemed blurry.  Here’s my first ever pair.189728_4165098359_9282_n-1As you can see, they were small, simple, and didn’t make much of a statement.  They also bent when I sat on them, were not comfortable on my nose, and had a narrow field of view.  After a couple years my eyes had changed and I needed a new pair.  I knew what I wanted: I wanted the Elvis Costello glasses, but I didn’t know where to find them.  I found some  wayfarer sunglasses in a store and asked my optometrist if he could knock the lenses out out of them and make some clear prescription lenses for me.  He did just that and the result was these.24541_383739516156_1566891_nOnly later did I find out that it was an enormous fad and an epic hipster cliché .  I also learned later that to deny knowledge of the fad was another epic hipster cliché.  The fact remains that I had wayfarer glasses before even ray-ban was manufacturing them.  I do despise looking like everyone else, not because I want to be special or different, but because life is more interesting with diversity of opinion, thought, and style.  I wish every pair of glasses was unique.  When I realized that I was a member of the least exclusive club that eyewear has ever seen, and when I busted my tortoiseshell wayfarers, I started looking for something different.  My goal was to keep the general style, after all I liked how my wayfarers looked, but to find something that wasn’t likely to become pervasive.  The result was the glasses I wear today.580288_419976711348650_1625498906_nThe original glasses were clear with red temples.  To ensure no copycats I replaced the original red temples with black.  This meant that unless some other obsessive glasses-elitist had created these very same franken-farers, mine would be one of a kind.  To this day I have only seen one other person with the same glasses as me and she was at least ninety.

But something happened between my first pair and now.  At some point I changed from someone who wears glasses to just glasses.  They have morphed into me.  Without them I am someone else.  It’s not a self imposed identity either.  Every time I have gone out without my glasses, people who I have known for years don’t recognize me, people with whom I’ve shared a good part of my life, admittedly only the part where I was wearing the glasses in question.    Beyond just being a part of my identity, my particular glasses have defined my identity in various ways.  They have been described as making me look nerdy, geeky, stylish, hipsterish, smarter, older, stupider, even professorial.

Now you may say I brought this on myself by trying to be unique, trying not to be another sheep and I take full responsibility.  One ought to fight his own preconceptions about others based on their appearance and understand the preconceptions of others based on one’s own.  On the whole, I think I can live with being glasses.SAMSUNGA coworker very kindly and artfully rendered me in dough and icing and, no surprise, when boiled down to my essence I am glasses.  The good news is, people are not their essence.  People are rather complicated and surprising.  The fun part is finding out just how wrong you were in the first place.

My question to you: what about your appearance leads people to the wrong conclusions about who you are?

Without any commentary from me (you know I’m thinking it), here’s a few fun (read: frightening and awe-inspiring) facts about the world we live in to put things in perspective.  Is that broken nail really worth crying about?

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LIFE

There are an estimated 8.7 million species on earth, 6.5 million on land and 2.2 million in the seas.

About 99.9% of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct.

The earliest cells are dated to around 3.6 billion years ago while the earliest members of the genus “homo” appeared only 2.5 million years ago and the first modern humans appeared only 200 000 years ago. The earliest recorded history began around 5000 years ago.

Our genome is largely identical to that of many other living things. We are about 96% identical to chimpanzees, 90% identical to cats, 60% identical to fruit flies, and 50% identical to bananas.

All of the heavy elements in our body were created in the supernova explosions of dying stars.  Humans are literally made of stardust.

earth-from-space

THE EARTH

Only 13.3% of the earth’s surface is arable and only 4.71% can sustain permanent crops.

About 50% of the earth’s forests have been destroyed, mostly in the last 50 years.

Astronomers estimate that the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest neighbour, will collide with our own galaxy in about 4 billion years.

No worries though because it’s thought that in 1.4 billion years the increasing luminosity of the sun will make the earth too hot for liquid water killing all life.

About 500 meteorites impact the earth’s surface each year.

In 1907 a meteor exploded over siberia felling 80 million trees in an area larger than 2000 square kilometers.

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THE UNIVERSE

The Universe is thought to have begun 13.7 billion years ago.

There are likely more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe ranging from dwarfs with around 10 million stars to giants with 100 trillion stars.

An estimated 50% of the stars in the universe have planets and a study looking at 1200 planets showed that there were 54 the size of earth and in the habitable zone of their solar systems.  This suggests that there are billions or  even trillions of planets supporting evolved life.

But we may never talk to them.  The first ever radio signals produced in 1886 traveling at the speed of light have travelled only 126 light-years since they were first broadcast.  By contrast, our own galaxy is 100 000-120 000 light years across.  Signals sent today will not reach even the nearest star for 4.24 years.

Because the expansion rate of the universe is increasing and the speed of light remains the same, there will come a time when we cannot see any galaxies outside our own, therefore future life-forms may have to rely on our research to know that there is a universe at all.

I know there are a few people out there who will disagree with me (hello feminist readers) but manhood has been under attack, or at least under scrutiny for a long time now.

Maybe it began with Archie Bunker who was scathingly and hilariously mocked for eleven years on All in the Family.  Archie Bunker was a caricature of the things that men sometimes do wrong like being stubborn or pigheaded, speaking condescendingly to others when we don’t know what we’re talking about, posturing, and being over-protective of our family.  I know that I am guilty of all of these things on an almost daily basis.

More recently, we had the crop of cartoon dads.  First: Homer Simpson, who has displayed his selfishness, laziness, and stupidity without redemption every week from 1989 to the present.  Then there was Peter Griffin, the dad in Family Guy.  He again was lazy, selfish and stupid and this time even fatter.  Pushing the envelope farther, Peter’s wife Lois is brilliant, beautiful, witty, and everything any woman could ever wish to be (except happily married).  There are occasionally exceptions (Hank and Peggy of King of the Hill are both idiot losers) but for the most part the comedy in the cartoon world is driven by the relationship between a pathetic man and a capable woman.  I think this is the all time low in the archetype of manhood as portrayed on TV.  All you have to do to see how sexist these shows are is turn the tables.  Imagine a program about an attractive, smart, successful man and his fat, ugly, stupid wife after whom he’s always cleaning up, all while supporting the family and working full time.  You have to imagine it because it doesn’t exist.  Not only would it be an awful example to any man or woman, it wouldn’t be funny.

So that’s where men sat a few years ago: subject to endless disdain and ridicule without redemption.  But 2012 is a very different world than that of a few years ago.  Today there is a new phenomenon sweeping the airwaves and the internet: meta-man.  No I’m not talking about the merging of man and machine into a global super-organism, I’m talking about taking manhood and turning it into an ironic character, a costume, a posture.  Here’s three examples of what I mean:

Exhibit A: The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Exhibit B: “I’m on a horse” guy.

Exhibit C: The Canadian Club Chairman.

What do these men all have in common?  They’re all awesome to the point of ridicule.  They’re all taking things that ought to be good things (“He can speak French…”) and pushing them just over the edge into absurdity (“…in Russian.”)

The first problem I have with this is that it’s not something worth mocking.  At least Peter Griffin is mocked for being selfish and lazy.  The most interesting man in the world is mocked for being a well dressed, cultured, globetrotter.  The “I’m on a horse” guy is mocked for being handsome and athletic and for giving women everything they want.  The Canadian Club Chairman is mocked for his moustache, his hunting lodge, and his supposed carpet of chest hair.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things!

But are they really being mocked?  These men are on a very thin knife edge between mockery and admiration.  They can be both laughed at or idolized.  The people who are exploiting this meta-man phenomenon know, as satirists have known for millennia, that to create a satire subtle enough that it is funny both for the in group and the out group is to sell books, or booze and hygiene products in this case.  I look at The Canadian Club Chairman and see people mocking middle-aged men with moustaches and beer guts while others may think they’re being venerated.  This is the genius of meta-man.

But I suppose the real reason these guys bother me, besides mocking what’s left of manhood, is that they ignore what we ought to celebrate.  The internet and the media is awash with literature on creating good roll-models for women.  Meta-man is the male equivalent of the dolled-up girl in a push-up bra acting ditzy to get boys to like her.  He has nothing to say to a guy like me: a guy who doesn’t sit in bars and drink with beautiful women, a guy who doesn’t have huge biceps, and a guy who doesn’t shoot and kill wild animals, but rather a guy who aspires to be honest in spite of the consequences, secure and not vein or self-pitying, capable and dependable, and most of all, supportive of his family and loved-ones.

That’s the role-model men need.  That’s the man you want your man to smell like.

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A couple weeks ago, I did a post called watch shopping with someone else’s money where I talked about all of the requirements my brother Duncan had for his new watch and how handily we had fulfilled those requirements, in particularly sartorial versatility. Well boy was I wrong.  I’ve been doing a little light reading on the subject and I was apparently way off when I said Duncan could wear this silver watch with his tux.  When asked about what watch to wear with a suit, GQ’s The Style Guy said this:

“This is perhaps one of the most ignored distinctions out there: the dress watch versus the sports watch. A dress watch is supposed to be small and discreet, whereas a sports watch is supposed to be visible at 300 meters and glow in the dark. But today most people choose their watches not on discretion or appropriate utility but just the opposite. Why wear a little gold thing easily hidden by one’s shirt cuff when you can wear a diamond-studded watch bigger than an Oreo cookie, calling everyone’s attention to your apparently limitless disposable income? So the question is, fundamentally, are you a gentleman or a playa or some attempted hybrid of the two? I think the sports-watch trend started with extended wear of the Rolex Submariner. Men aiming for a dashing image wore their diver’s watches to the office, sending out the message “I may lease industrial washing machines Monday through Friday, but on weekends I stalk the tiger shark on the Great Barrier Reef.” In their dreams, of course—but isn’t that what most sartorial imagery is about?”

Click here to see the original story.

Anyway, this means that Duncan’s watch is out.  It’s apparently a sports watch meant only for nautical endeavors.  To my surprise, this distinction also leaves out almost all of the Rolexes and Omegas that you see people wearing around.  Only a simple small watch with a leather strap should be worn with a suit.

Dress watches

But the problem is that, although they once were, Rolex dive masters are not what people actually wear for diving, nor are they worn for any other sport, except maybe sailing.  Rolex has the distinction of having been the first watch both to summit Mount Everest and to travel to the bottom of the Marianas  Trench.  Today you would never see divers or climbers in a Rolex.  They’re more likely to wear a Suunto watch that can graph altitude, depth, barometric pressure, heart rate, and GPS coordinates.  If not appropriate for suits or for sports, where do these beautiful stainless steel sports watches fit in?

I think The Style Guy hits it on the head in his last sentence.  These stainless steel sports watches are styled to wear with jeans and featured for globetrotters and adventurers.  Duncan just wanted to look like he has a yacht.  He really doesn’t.  And so it is with all those men wearing dive watches to the office.  They don’t dive on weekends, but if they ever decide to (which they won’t) their watch can handle it (but it won’t).  From reading forums on the subject, it seems that the overwhelming majority of people think it’s okay to wear a stainless steel sports watch with a suit, though this seems to be mainly just because James Bond does it.

James Bond Omega Watch

As for Duncan’s watch, it can be worn in the shower or the pool, which is handy, and with casual outfits.  If he’s wearing a suit, he needs a dress watch with a simple face and a leather band.  As for his tuxedo, a watch should never be worn to black tie events as you only wear black tie after 6:00 pm and then it doesn’t matter what time it is.  Tsk tsk mister Bond.  It’s not often we catch you breaking manly style laws, especially with Tom Ford in your corner.

So there you have it: sports watch with a a tuxedo or even a suit is a big no no if you know what’s what in men’s style, but since most me don’t know what’s what in men’s style it seems like most of them are on board.

What do you think?  Is it okay to wear a sport watch with a suit?

Those who hate to hear people swearing have it all wrong.

Whether it be the explicit and sacred name of god in the pentateuch, the great hero’s name in Beowulf, or Harry Potter’s Nemesis he-who-shall-not-be-named, writers have know for millennia that a word develops magical powers when you’re not allowed to say it.  It’s a funny thing too.  The words that no-one says must be the most magical, right?  But if no-one says them then how would we know them at all?  Everybody knows them and no one says them?  Not likely!  It’s just not said in polite society.

The important question is: why do the people who hate swearing want people to stop saying certain words?  All they do is give those words magic powers.  There’s a word that we’re not supposed to say that means exactly the same thing as poo, dung, feces, turd, doodie, doo-doo, bung, crap, droppings, stools, and endless other words.  All of these words were considered naughty at one point.  Today they are hilariously PG.  Only the “S” word is illicit.  Why?  Why do people think it’s bad to say that word even though it has precisely the same meaning words that are allowed?  Yet those who hate swearing act like that one’s special and extra bad.  They act exactly as if they want more naughty words.  I assume that the end-game of the anti-swearing folks is to avoid hurt feelings.  But all they do is create more increasingly shocking and powerful words to be used against the emotionally frail and easily offended.

Alternately, those who curse all the time make illicit words commonplace.  They take the F-word and drop it into every single sentence so that we become desensitized to it.  The first time someone tells you to f@$% yourself it’s surprising.  The second time it’s annoying.  The third time it’s just a figure of speech.  The result is that in an environment where anyone will say any word, like a high school hallway, there is no language you can use to shock people, no way to crank up the tone of your language.

Just because words mean the same thing doesn’t mean the have the same function in language.  Here’s what I mean.

DOO-DOO –> POO –> CRAP –> S#%$

BACKSIDE –> TUSH –> BUM –> A$$

SLEEP WITH –> DO –> SCREW –> F@$%

Each of these sets contains (or implies) four words that have exactly the same meaning, but as you approach the dirtiest word you turn up the intensity.  This variety of terms, and shock values, gives us the ability to craft sentences in an endless variety of tones from the clinical tone of a doctor to the emblazoned tones of a street preacher.

That’s why I don’t swear: because I love swear words!  People who swear all the time steal away all the shock and disgust for when we really need it.  Anyone who is interested in softening the English language ought to swear all the time to end the stigma and shock of those words.  Those of us who want those words to hurt and crush souls when they are uttered should use them sparsely.  And finally, all those people who swear every second word for no reason at all can just fuck off.

You see?  It works.

So what do you think?  Do you mind swearing?  Do bad words make you cringe?  If so then why?

Comfortable is a weird word.  If something is breakable, it means one could break it.  If something is comfortable it means one could . . . comfort it?  It really shouldn’t even be a word.  We have the word comforting which could apply to all things that are comfortable, or all things that comfort us.

But that’s not my big beef with the word.  My problem is that there are very few people that I’ve met or heard speak who can pronounce it properly.  The word should be pronounced like this:

Com-for-ta-ble

or

Cum-fur-tuh-bull

But that’s not how people pronounce comfortable.  Instead we tend to say it like this:

comf-ter-ble

or

cumf-tur-bull

That’s not just a slight mispronunciation, it’s getting the letters in the wrong order.  I catch myself making this mistake all the time, but I try my best to get it right.

It is one of the most deeply engrained mistakes I’ve noticed.  I suppose that’s good news for me because it means there are more mistakes that we all make I’ve not even noticed yet.  I always need more material.

 

Something funny has been happening lately.  Perhaps not do much funny as odd.  Alarms have been going off all over the place.

Just last week I was sitting in a Second Cup having a coffee and working and an annoying fire alarm began to buzz in the cafe.  After about 30 seconds, when the cafe patrons realized that this annoyance might go on for a little while, people began to look up from their computers and portray a slight annoyance.  After a couple minutes, someone came on the intercom and said “The fire department has been notified and is on their way.  Everyone please stay calm.” That was clearly not a problem.  Barely anyone had noticed.  The alarm buzzed on.  After about five minutes, the firefighters arrived prepared to hose down the whole building.  Again no one noticed.  As it turns out, there was no fire.  After about 10 minutes the alarm was turned off and the firefighters went home.

More recently, I was on my break at work and a voice came over the intercom to tell the thousands of people in the food court that the whole atrium was being evacuated.  Not a soul moved.

We’ve all heard a car alarm go off and though “Jeez!  I wish they would shut that thing up already!”  What if someone was stealing a car?  What if the cafe was burning down?  What if my workplace really was in need of evacuation?  Surely people would die.  I know that the folks at the cafe would have to see smoke and flames before they started to close their MacBooks.  Perhaps they wouldn’t notice until the inferno effected their wi-fi connection.  Either way, there alarms are so frequent that people end up reacting in exactly the say way they would if there was no alarm at all. Perhaps they would be slightly less surprised when they smell smoke.

Obviously all of these alarms that are meant for emergencies have to be calibrated to be a whole lot  less sensitive.  If they were wrong only half the time then people would take alarms very seriously.  As long as alarms go off as frequently as they do, they will be as effective as no alarms at all, and that’s as wasteful as it is annoying.